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ASG tugboats and barges sold to Samoa for $13K — not $5 each

Port Administration director Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Poumele and ASG Property Management Office director Niumata appeared before the House Transportation/ Port Committee on Wednesday to discuss the issue regarding the selling of tugboats and barges to the Samoa government.  [photo: AF]

Port Administration director Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Poumele told House members this week that the reason why governor Lolo M. Moliga was trying to stop the sale of the two ASG tugboats and barges to Samoa, was based on different information her office received.

She said when she received information that the two tugboats and two barges were sold to Samoa for $5 each —she called the governor to inform him of the issue.

“Lolo instructed one of my employees to inform the director of the Office of Property Management to stop the sale of the government’s property to Samoa; but we were informed that the purchase had already been done, the receipts were also given out to the representative from Samoa, who was present during the government’s auction,” Taimalelagi said.

House Transportation/ Port Committee chairman Rep, Kitara Vaiau called the Wednesday hearing to find out why the tugboats and barges were auctioned off and sold to the Samoa government.

Appearing before the committee was Taimalelagi; Office of Property Management director, Malo Niumata and deputy director Polleen Asalele.

Niumata told the committee that the Samoa Shipping Corporation now owns the two tugboats and two barges that formerly belonged to the American Samoa Government. The Tatoso was sold for more than $1,000 and the Tautua was sold for over $2,000 while the two barges were sold for $5,000 each.

Vice Speaker, Rep. Fetui Fetu Jr. asked Taimalelagi why they sold the items to Samoa; he wanted to know whether the ASG Shipyard Authority could have carried out repairs for the vessels.

Niumata confirmed to the committee that the vessels and barges were sold at the ASG auction in July, and added that both vessels were surveyed and had not been in service for a long time.

He explained that after his office conducted a survey of both vessels, it appeared that their useful life was over, meaning there was no value in both vessels.

“The bid for the two vessels started from $500, and there were only two parties that showed interest in the two vessels and the two barges. Samoa had the highest bids, while the other bidder — a local businessman — bid $1,000,” Niumata said.

According to him, the local agents for Samoa Shipping Corporation, Polynesia Shipping, paid a total of more than $13,000 for the two vessels and the two barges, and the check went directly to the ASG Treasurer, not his office, which would be the Revenue Office.

Fetu said the reason why the hearing was called is so the administration can explain to the Fono, why the two vessels were sold to the Samoa government, when there are engineers at the shipyard who could have done the repairs on them.

Taimalelagi replied it wasn’t that the shipyard couldn’t repair the two vessels — especially the Tatoso — it was a question of how best to utilize the $1.7 million in federal Capital Improvement Project (CIP) funding, especially in light of a new federal regulation that goes into effect January 2018, which calls for a higher horse power engine than what the Tatoso or the Sailele have.

She said, “… the decision to sell the two vessels was the right move by the government, so that we can get rid of these old vessels and barges — for the purpose of getting money for the government — instead of them sitting in the ocean for a long period of time,” Taimalelagi said.

She said when she was first appointed to be the Port Administration director, she learned that the two barges were bought by ASG from Hawai’i for $50,000 each. But as she continued to gather all the receipts from the purchase of the two barges, she discovered that the government spent $350,000 to repair the barges in Hawai’i before they were brought to American Samoa.

Taimalelagi went on to say that a few years ago, McConnell Dowell wanted to buy the two barges for $25,000 each. She didn’t elaborate to the committee why the sale didn’t happen.

Vaiau said he's heard reports from Samoa that the Tatoso is in use and it is running well, and he’s hoping our government will not have to get the Tatoso back here to Manu’a when our vessels are down.

He asked Taimalelagi whether the shipyard was ever notified to carry out repair works for the two vessels.

Taimalelagi responded yes and said the estimated cost of the shipyard’s proposal to repair the Tatoso was around $1.1 million, leaving a balance of $600,000 for the Sailele. She said however, even if the Tatoso was repaired, it wouldn’t meet the new federal regulation that goes into effect January 2018.

Rep. Vailoata E. Amituana’i told Taimalelagi that he believes the money from the auctioning of the two vessels and the two barges should go to the Port Administration’s budget, because that's where the money used to purchase the vessels and the barges during the last Administration came from.

Taimalelagi said that while she understands where Vailoata is coming from, everything is at the governor’s discretion.